It was 8 days before Christmas. I was physically and emotionally exhausted… about to work my last day at a job I loved, wrapping the last of the gifts and prepping for our annual Christmas trip to see my family in Illinois. Throw in a teething baby (who isn’t sleeping through the night yet anyway) and an early alarm clock several days a week and I was wiped.
But I also felt like I couldn’t go to my mom and dad’s house empty handed. I had to make something yummy and why not get the boys to help?
We got one pan of cookies in the oven before I even put the baby down for bed. SUCCESS! We were doing it!
Why in the hell I went for the pumpkin spice sugar glazed muffins next, I will never know. Well, I guess it’s because I’d already asked the boys if they wanted to help make that specific kind we’ve made before and they excitedly replied, ‘Yes!’ So there was no getting out of it.
Got the baby down and… shit. No pumpkin. Are you freaking kidding me? My husband was working, baby sleeping, 8:15 on a Thursday night and I needed a stupid can of pumpkin.
Thank God we have amazing neighbors who bail me out every single time I inconveniently decide to be Betty Crocker. 2 of the 3 I texted said they had it. But I didn’t want to inconvenience them any more than I already had, so I bundled up the boys, grabbed the baby monitor and headed next door.
Of course when we got back home 10 minutes later, the 4 year old ran ahead and rang our damn doorbell… because that’s what 4-year-olds do. He thinks it’s funny. It’s not funny when his baby sister is fast asleep and the stupid dog barks like burglars are ransacking the house.
OK, calm down, mom. Take off the boys’ coats, rock the baby 5 more minutes. Now to the muffins.
Again… WHAT. WAS. I. THINKING?
My 2 and 4 year old melted right in the middle of it. The younger one sobbed when I wouldn’t let him stick his finger in the batter just one more time. The older one whined and cried when I wouldn’t let him do EVERYTHING. (Last time I let him measure a teaspoon of vanilla by himself, we threw out an entire batch of Very Vanilla Banana Bread and he bawled because we didn’t have more bananas to start over).
So I put the muffin mix aside, calmed two overtired boys, brushed teeth, put on pajamas, read books and got them to bed. But 30 minutes later, I still had to finish the damn muffins. That wasn’t even the hardest part. The CLEAN UP is what got me.
11-freaking-30 at night and I still had to load the dishwasher, hand wash the 3 mixing bowls and pan that wouldn’t fit in the dishwasher, clean up “sugar mountain” the boys so delicately designed and get the kitchen sparkling clean before I could go to bed.
HAD to, you ask?
Yes. Had to.
It’s this weird thing that happened after I got married. It intensified with each tiny human we brought home from the hospital. I have a thing for keeping my house clean. Like can’t stand to see a mess and have to clean it up right away, clean.
The sand tracked in from the sand box? I sweep the floors every day, sometimes more than once a day in the summer.
The toys my kids played with that day? Put away at bed time. All of them. Their bedrooms are spotless. We even have “toy drawers” in our kitchen and master bathroom so it can easily be out of sight, out of mind.
The fort using 2 kitchen chairs, 6 blankets, all the couch cushions and 8 other toys in the middle of the living room? Has to come down when we’re done playing with it.
Painting? All supplies washed and put away immediately after we’re done.
The inside of our microwave is clean, counters wiped down and the house is usually presentable enough that I wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone randomly stopped by.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE doing art, building towers, baking, building forts and making all sorts of memories with my kids while we’re doing it. But I also really, really love a clean house. My husband is the same way. We’ve talked about it. Our need for over-the-top cleanliness and how it makes us feel more focused and better prepared to deal with life.
We almost never go to bed with dishes in the sink or a mess to be cleaned up the next day. We even recently created a ‘command center’ to get stacks of mail and paper off our counter tops. He built little cubbies for our computer and the kids’ Leap Pads so they aren’t just lying around.
I also know there are different tolerance levels for messy. Some can handle a lot and others – like me – feel like we have to be in constant clean up mode even when we have friends bring their kids over to play. It sounds ridiculous as I type it… yet I still do it.
Just to clarify… our house is not SPOTLESS. You’ll find dog hair on the couch and the floors (that stuff refuses to go away, regardless of how often we sweep). There are almost always crumbs of some sort on our floors too – we have kids! The kid’s bath tub could probably use a good scrub, there might be a dribble or two of toddler pee on the toilet and our beds only get made once a week, if that. I also tend to neglect my closet from time to time because that’s in a part of the house very few people see. I do get right on it though, when I have a few free hours.
And in the middle of cleaning up my baking-frenzied mess or picking up toys when I’m beyond the point of exhaustion, I’ve recently started to wonder if it’s worth it. Is it worth the hour of sleep I’m trading to wake up to a clean kitchen? Or stopping precious time with my kids to clean up another mess? Am I missing out on important time with them? We are already pretty cognizant about not being glued to our phones or the computer when they’re awake, but am I replacing that busyness with a new type of busyness just so I can, well…. stay busy?
“When are you going to play with me?” my 4-year-old asked last week.
“Just after I unload and re-load the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen a little bit, buddy,” I replied.
I immediately felt the guilt. He happily went on to his next activity, accepting my answer, knowing I’d play with him later.
But what kind of message was I sending? A clean kitchen is more important than 1-on-1 time with him? Or his brother? And what about when the baby cried 5 minutes later and I immediately went to her, once again putting him on the back burner?
Maybe it’s OK to do that sometimes. To teach our kids patience and how to play by themselves or – gasp! – with each other. But I feel like I’ve been doing too much of it lately because of this stupid compulsion to have a clean house. And for what?
My mom and other mom friends who are a few years older tell me I’ll relax at some point. I won’t care about the messes that drive me crazy right now. Maybe that’s true.
Now that I’m aware of my inner ‘cleaning monster,’ I’m also trying to tame it. Be more willing to stop in the middle of folding laundry or picking up the house to really zone in on my kids and their needs. More flexible when my plan to pick up doesn’t jive with what they want to do in that same moment.
I don’t want to someday have a spotless house filled with regret because I was simply too busy cleaning up messes to live in the moment with the people I love most. Those messes will always be here. But babies grow up. And it’s our job as parents to make that experience the absolute best it can be for them. Pumpkin spice sugar glazed muffins and all.
I'm a mom to 3 beautiful, spirited, elementary school-aged humans, I'm addicted to running + strength training, I have no filter & I work full time in the corporate world. But behind the scenes of all that is where it really gets interesting...